"Oh my gosh." is how Paul Boots started the conversation when asked how exciting it was to watch his women's cross country team win the provincial championship Saturday. "We really weren't on anyone's radar because Mohawk has been more or less been the leading team."
At the 2 K mark of the race Boots was studying how the race was going when he realized Mohawk was missing one of their top runners. At that point he understood, "We have to start scoring Mohawk." Boots said. When he arrived at the 4 K marker his team was in second place, down 4 points to Fanshawe but up six on Mohawk.
That's when he realized, "We got a shot to win the whole thing."
The Saints went to work over the final 2 kilometres of the race and shocked the field. Victoria Horrobin finished the 6k course in 24:02 to place 4th. Camryn Crawford placed 9th, Justine Abbott (16th) and Melody Knight (19th) helped St. Clair score the points needed to win the gold medal.
"None of us have fully processed winning yet." said Abbott. "It was completely unexpected."
Abbott's effort down the stretch was pivotal for the Saints as she moved from 20th to 16th. "Whenever I got tired and felt like slowing down I would remind myself that it is still possible for us to get second and would tell myself to keep going." Abbott said. "The last 200m I just went for it and started sprinting, I ended up passing a girl in that finishing chute bringing me to the 16th position. I ended up passing a girl in that finishing chute bringing me to the 16th position."
"I remember glaring at the time clock moments before the finish line and was shocked to realize I had improved my time by almost two minutes compared to our last race. This was the performance I’ve always dreamed of as a cross country runner and I couldn’t have asked for better timing."
The timing was right to let Horrobin loose as well. "This is the first green light she got all year." Boots said of the Wallaceburg runner who missed the first couple of races of the season. "We kinda figured we better give it to her now. It's now or never."
And she responded finishing six seconds short of the podium. "This season was all about learning to be patient and trust the process." Horrobin said. "My coaches knew that I needed to hold off and cross train, so I could come on strong when it mattered most. Team gold was not something I even imagined to be possible when I was pool running in late September, but so unbelievably thrilled with this result. My team has been so super supportive which makes the team triumph so much more meaningful."
It was St. Clair best race this season following a pair of 3rd place finishes. The Saints qualify for the national championships in Halifax on November 11th.
The men's team finished 6th but Boots says the team is underrated. "They all broke 30 minutes." he pointed out. "I haven't had a team have six guys break 30 minutes ever. It's just the field was fast." Less than a minute separated their top finisher (Wesley Hearn, 26th overall in 28:49) and lowest finisher (Noah Nicoletti, 32nd in 29:45).
"We're close. We don't have the 26 minute person to get us a top-5 finish. It looks promising because those are six good runners."